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First drive: Volvo XC90 T8 Drive-E Twin Engine PHEV sets a high bar for full-size luxury SUV plug-ins in US

With the 2016 XC90 (earlier post) heading to dealerships across the US, Volvo Cars gave media an opportunity to experience the next generation of its full-size luxury SUV—in both its conventional T6 and plug-in hybrid T8 Drive-E Twin Engine forms—in and around Los Angeles. Volvo also brought in members of its engineering and design teams, including Michael Fleiss, VP of Powertrain Engineering, to provide more technical details on the car.

The XC90 is a critical car for Volvo’s revitalization worldwide and especially in the US market. Combining Volvo’s new design language, advanced safety and in-car connectivity technologies, and the new strategic Drive-E powertrains, the XC90 is the first product based on Volvo’s new strategic Scalable Product Architecture (SPA). (Earlier post.) The XC90 T8 Twin Engine will be the first 3-row, 7-passenger, plug-in hybrid electric light-duty vehicle in the US when it arrives in showrooms toward the end of 2015, but will soon be joined by—at least—the Audi Q7 e-tron quattro diesel PHEV (earlier post), the Mercedes-Benz GLE 550e PHEV (earlier post), and the BMW X5 xDrive 40e (earlier post).

Bottom line, subjectively, Volvo has set a high bar for the coming crop of full-size luxury plug-in hybrid SUVs, from design to performance. The 3-row, 7-seat SUV weighs 5,059 lbs (2,295 kg) in its PHEV version (4,627 lbs/2,099 kg conventional), yet delivers the performance, handling and feel of a smaller luxury sporty sedan, even up and down twisty canyon roads.

Put another way, even when driving the conventional T6 model and accelerating briskly up a winding road, the driver has no idea that only a 2.0L (1,969 cm3), 4-cylinder gasoline engine is doing the work. The plug-in version improves on that feeling and delivery of performance and handling. (While the Mercedes GLE 550e will use a 3L twin-turbo V6 and the Audi Q7 e-tron a 3L TDI diesel, the BMW X5 xDrive 40e also features a 2.0L engine.)

Luxury plug-in hybrid SUVs coming to US market
  Volvo XC90
T8 Twin Engine
Audi Q7 e-tron Mercedes-Benz
GLE 550e
xDrive 40e
Engine Supercharged
Inline 4
V6 turbo Twin turbo V6 TwinPower Turbo
Inline 4
Fuel Gasoline Diesel2 Gasoline Gasoline
Displacement (cm3) 1969 2967 2996 1997
System power (hp) 400 373 436 308
System torque (lb-ft) 472 516 479 332
Battery pack (kWh) 9.2 17.3 8.8 9.0
All electric (mi) 17 34.8 18.6 13
Fuel consumption
(ECE)1 (L/100km)
2.1 1.7 3.3 3.4-3.3
Estimated EPA MPGe >59 TBD TBD 55
CO2 (g/km) 49 <50 78 78-77
0-60 (sec) 5.6 6.0 (to 62.1 mph) TBD 6.5
1 Given that US EPA fuel economy figures for the vehicles are not yet available, we are using the ECE fuel consumption figures from Europe as a means to provide a comparison across vehicles, and are providing the estimated EPA figure where available.

2 Audi is also developing a gasoline-engine version of the Q7 e-tron specifically for the Asian markets China, Singapore and Japan. This version of the Q7 PHEV will also use a 2.0-liter gasoline engine, the 2.0 TFSI. (Earlier post.)

In the XC90 T8 PHEV—which uses essentially the same engine as in the T6 in combination with the 65 kW electric rear axle drive (ERAD), 34 kW Crankshaft-ISG (C-ISG), and 9.2 kWh Li-ion battery pack—acceleration improves by about 9% (0-62 mph in 5.6 seconds); system power is up by 25% to 400 hp; and system torque is up 60% to 472 lb-ft. Due to the sophisticated use of torque infill, the drive performance of the T8 PHEV is even more seamless and smoother than in the T6. (More on torque infill later.) All this in a quiet, extremely comfortable cabin that the Volvo team calls, with justification, “A Scandinavian Sanctuary”.

(Top) 2016 XC90. (Middle) T8 Drive-E Twin Engine hybrid components. (Bottom) Acceleration comparison of the new XC90 T8 PHEV, the older V8-powered XC90, and the Tesla Model S 85. Click to enlarge.

Background. Volvo Car Corporation was founded in Sweden in 1927. In 1999, Ford acquired Volvo as part of its Premier Auto Group. China-based Geely Holding bought Volvo from Ford in 2010; its approximately 11-year stint with Ford left Volvo with a number of legacy Ford technologies. (Earlier post.)

In 2011, Volvo announced it would build its own technological future based on two in-house developed strategies: a scalable vehicle architecture (SPA); and a new engine range consisting solely of four-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines (Volvo Engine Architecture, VEA4). These were to be designed with hybridization in mind. This has been extended to now include 3-cylinder engines (GEA3), targeted at smaller vehicle segments and lower prices. In Volvo Cars nomenclature, a Drive-E powertrain is the combination of a VEA engine and a gearbox.

Powertrain strategy
Volvo Cars’ engine strategy. Click to enlarge.

Major goals behind the development of the VEA were best in class fuel consumption; high performance feel; a common software platform; and variant reduction, this being a major element that also fit in with the SPA approach.

In designing the modular VEA engines, noted Michael Fleiss (whom Volvo recruited from the Volkswagen Group), Volvo had a special asset: 15 years worth of real data on actual engine use, acquired from “flight recorders” on 25,000 customer vehicles. Analysis of the data yielded engine torque and engine speed distribution (for the World and for Germany) that gave the engineers practical boundary targets.

The VEA engines are shorter than their predecessors and use a compact common transverse installation. Even the XC90 T8 system with the C-ISG between engine and transmission is mounted transversely.

Both diesel and gasoline engines use a common, lightweight base engine—i.e., cylinder block and bedplate. The base is then paired with the modular elements appropriate to the application: e.g., diesel or gasoline heads, boost, aftertreatment, etc. The resulting VEA engines deliver a leading combination of specific power (kW/L) and low weight, as shown in the two slides above: gasoline engines on the left, diesel engines on the right. The Volvo engine in each slide is the large red dot to the right: VEP4. Click to enlarge.

Both gasoline and diesel use central mounted injectors; in the gasoline engines, the tumble level varies with performance. The gasoline injection system uses a 200 bar fuel pump paired with 6-hole solenoid injectors.

There are discrete boosting packages for each of the VEA engine; the T6/T8 uses the combination of the supercharge and turbocharger, for example, while the T5, T4 and T3 use turbos alone. The T6 supercharger, supplied by Eaton, has an integrated clutch, and two rotors with four lobes with 160˚ twist.

The supercharger is used in steady-state operation at low engine speeds with high torque requirements while the turbo builds up; the supercharger then begins to hand off its boost duties to the turbo, and cuts off entirely at 3500 rpm. The engine management electronic control unit (ECU) can engage and disengage the supercharger on the engine using the integrated clutch. This feature supports improved fuel efficiency without compromising other benefits of the supercharger, including vehicle responsiveness and low-rev torque.

Volvo has also emphasized friction reduction in its VEA family, using a variety of techniques including improved roundness of the cylinder bore, which results in very low tangential piston ring forces, a variable oil pump and new low viscosity engine oil.

Volvo powertrain engineers are already at work on Gen 2 and Gen 3 VEA engines, said Fleiss. These following generations will take the base work done in the first generation and add features—a Millerized approach is a possible example, he suggested. Fleiss expects the future base VEA engine will meet the EU 2020 95 g/km CO2target without electrification.

The T6 engine for the XC90. The supercharger/turbocharger unit is shown. Click to enlarge.

The XC90 T6 and T8. The 2016 XC90 is driven by the latest Drive-E powertrain systems. The gasoline T6 Drive-E, supercharged and turbocharged—316 hp (236 kW), 295 lb-ft (400 N·m)—is standard and paired with a Haldex mechanical AWD system and eight-speed automatic transmission (Aisin AW TG-81SC).

The available T8 Drive-E Twin Engine coming later this year also uses the T6 engine (with a few minor modifications), but adds an electric motor to drive the rear axle, combining to deliver a total system output of 400 hp (298 kW) and 472 lb-ft (640 N·m) of torque.

Fuel consumption for the XC90 T6 is 8.0 L/100km (29 mpg US) on the European cycle, for 186 g CO2/km. EPA-rated fuel economy is 20 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, 22 mpg combined.

Fuel consumption for the XC90 T8 Twin Engine PHEV is 2.1 L/100km (112 mpg US) on the European cycle, for 49 g CO2/km. Estimated EPA city fuel economy is more than 59 MPGe.

XC90 specs
  T6 AWD T8 Twin Engine
Engine I-4 supercharged and turbocharged
Configuration Transverse
Displacement (cm3) 1969
Bore (mm) 82
Stroke (mm) 93.2
Engine cylinder block material Aluminum
Cylinder head material Aluminum
Compression ratio 10.3:1
Valves, no/cylinder 4
Camshafts 2
Engine idling speed (rpm) 825 850
Fuel type, recommended Premium
Combined power (hp)   400
Max engine output, hp/rpm 316 / 5700 313 / 5700
Max electric motor output (hp / rpm)   87 /6000
Max engine torque, lb-ft / rpm 295 / 2200-4500
Max electric motor torque, lb-ft   177
Acceleration 0-60 mph, seconds 6.1 5.6
Top speed, mph 143 130

The XC90 T8 Twin Engine powertrain. The all-wheel drive powertrain of the XC90 plug-in hybrid combines the torque and power of the T6 engine, plus the ERAD in the rear and the C-ISG in the front.

Volvo had proposed an early version of the Crankshaft-Integrated Starter Generator (C-ISG) in 2001; that 42V system was intended for a mild hybrid application. The current C-ISG is integrated between the engine and the 8-speed transmission (itself the same unit used in the T6).

The water-cooled C-ISG has three functions: the starter; a generator to keep charging the battery; and power boost under certain conditions. Its contribution adds to the torque infill between gear shifts, enabling the smooth drive feeling; it also provides extra oomph during start-up and hard acceleration. The 34 kW unit (46 hp) delivers 150 N·m (103 lb-ft) of torque.

The Electric Rear Axle Drive (ERAD) (from Siemens) also has three functions: a generator for charging the battery; electric traction drive; and power boost. The water-cooled unit features a 10 gear ratio and has a disconnect clutch. The 65 kW (87 hp) unit delivers 240 N·m (177 lb-ft) of torque.

The XC90 T8 blended braking system partly uses brake-by-wire technology to recover and transmit energy back into the car, either to recharge the battery or for immediate use. The system is also equipped with a stability function that controls the amount of energy that may be safely regenerated.

C-ISG. Click to enlarge.   ERAD. Click to enlarge.

The 9.2 kWh Li-ion battery pack incorporates 96 Lithium Manganese Oxide-Nickel Manganese Cobalt / Graphite cells from LG Chem into 6 modules. The pack, which is water-cooled, fits in the central tunnel, stopping before it encroaches into the second-row passenger foot space. The available space to passengers is thus the same for both the conventional and the plug-in versions of the XC90. Voltage range for the battery, which powers the ERAD, is 270 - 400V; power output is 65 kW.

The XC90 T8 has two extra cooling circuits. The first cools the C-ISG and the ERAD. The second cools the battery in one of two ways: either passively, via the radiator, or actively through integration with the car’s climate system.

The XC90 T8 PHEV has five basic modes of operation.
  • EV drive, in which the battery powers the ERAD.
  • Brake energy recuperation, in which the ERAD converts braking energy to electricity to charge the battery.
  • Combustion engine drive and charging. When the combustion engine is one and propelling the car, the C-ISG is charging the battery pack.
  • Power boost and torque infill. This combines the efforts of the ERAD and the C-ISG to provide electric drive boost and mechanical drive boost, respectively.
  • All wheel drive. In this mode, the engine drives the front wheels, and the battery powers the ERAD, supplemented by electricity generated by the C-ISG while the engine is running.
A very sophisticated ECU sorts out what is required by the vehicle at a given time. Click to enlarge.

The driver has access to five drive modes, selected by a scroll wheel in the console or directly from the center touch screen:

  • Pure: EV drive.
  • Hybrid: the default mode, with balanced attributes.
  • Power: the best performance and response. (Subjective note: this is the most fun.)
  • AWD: best traction.
  • Save: Forced charge sustaining mode to save energy for later.
Torque sources. This chart illustrates the torque contributions made by the different powertrain elements to the performance of the XC90 when accelerating. The blue line (acc) shows the acceleration; the black line shows engine speed; the yellow line shows vehicle speed. The blending of the different torque sources, controlled by the ECU, enhances the smooth drive of the XC90. Click to enlarge.

Safety and services. SPA helps make it possible for Volvo to bolster its reputation for safety without compromising on design, size or weight. Thanks to the extensive use of high-strength boron steel, SPA cars can be made more compact and safer at the same time.

Body structure of XC90. Click to enlarge.

SPA also includes an innovative electrical architecture designed to make it easy to integrate new technology within fast-moving areas such as microprocessor, sensor and camera technology. This facilitates the introduction of new accident-preventing safety solutions, and enables rapid introduction of new multimedia and connectivity options.

The XC90 offers two world-first safety technologies: a run-off road protection package and auto brake at intersection capability.

  • In a run-off road scenario, the all-new Volvo XC90 detects what is happening and the front safety belts are tightened to keep the occupants in position. To help prevent spine injuries, energy-absorbing functionality between the seat and seat frame cushions the vertical forces that can arise when the car encounters a hard landing in the terrain.

  • Automatic braking engages if the driver turns in front of an oncoming car. This is a common scenario at busy city crossings as well as on highways, where the speed limits are higher. City Safety is the umbrella name for all of Volvo Cars’ auto brake functions, which are standard equipment in the all-new XC90. It now covers vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians in front of the car, day and night.

The XC90 also offers a set of IntelliSafe support technologies including an extended Park Assist Pilot, which now also offers automatic reversing into a parking bay as well as entering and exiting a parallel parking spot. The XC90 can also display a digitally created bird’s-eye view of the 360° area around the car on the large center screen.

  • Park Assist Pilot facilitates both parallel and bay parking by taking over and operating the steering wheel while the driver handles the gearbox and controls the car’s speed. The parking maneuver is based on information from twelve ultrasonic sensors around the car.

    When the driver activates the Park Assist Pilot in a parallel parking situation, the sensors start to scan the side of the car for empty parking slots. When a parking slot measuring a minimum of 1.2 times the car’s length is detected, the driver is notified by an audible signal and a message in the instrument cluster. In a bay parking situation, the slot needs to be the width of the car plus one meter. The display then guides the driver step by step via texts and animations in the instrument cluster until the car is parked.

  • The 360° Surround View gives the driver a bird’s-eye view, an overview of the surrounding area, seen from a point above the car. This bird’s-eye view is enabled by four concealed fish-eye cameras—one integrated into the front, one integrated in each of the door mirrors and one fitted above the rear number plate. The 360° Surround View also gives the driver comfortable access to other views of the surrounding area such as front, rear and side views.

  • Cross Traffic Alert covers the driver’s back when reversing out of a parking space. It warns of approaching traffic up to 30 meters on each side, alerting the driver with an audible signal and a warning on the center screen.

Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) and Lane Keeping Aid (LKA) provide radar-controlled, semi-autonomous travel in certain conditions, and feed in to Volvo’s Vision 2020, with the goal that no one will be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car by 2020.

In-car control and simplicity. The XC90 also features the latest Sensus infotainment system with a 9-inch, tablet-like touchscreen located atop the center console. Removing all but eight physical buttons—down from the 30-plus found in the average vehicle—Sensus features a tiled interface that sorts key, preferred actions into four tiles on the screen.

Speedy response times, an intuitive layout, and safety-focused elements combine with natural voice control, as well as future access to seamless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration for a smooth user experience.

147393_The_all_new_Volvo_XC90_Sensus copy
The new Sensus tablet. Click to enlarge.

For convenience and efficiency, drivers can pre-condition the XC90 T8’s drivetrain, battery and cabin, either directly from within the car or by using the Volvo On Call mobile app. This ensures that, whether it’s freezing or hot and humid outside, the car will be heated or cooled as necessary and ready to go by the time the driver enters. Pre-conditioning can be done while the car is plugged in, which is beneficial from a CO2 perspective since it ensures that the battery will last as long as possible in Pure mode.

Interior. The new XC90 interior combines materials such as soft leather and wood with handcrafted details, including a gear lever made of crystal glass from Orrefors and diamond-cut controls for the start/stop button and volume control.

The panoramic sunroom is made of laminated glass that provides a feeling of spaciousness while also preventing excessive heat-build up in the cabin.

146857_The_all_new_Volvo_XC90 copy
The seven seater (2+3+2) uses stadium-style seating (i.e., each row higher than the one in front of it) to provide maximum visibility for all occupants. Click to enlarge.

Sound. Volvo Cars audio experts joined forces with their counterparts at the renowned British audio equipment company Bowers & Wilkins. The top-of-the-line system in the XC90 features a 1,400 Watt Class D amplifier and 19 Bowers & Wilkins speakers. It also includes one of the first air-ventilated subwoofers in a car. Integrated into the car body, it turns the whole interior space into a giant subwoofer.

The latest sound processing software has been used to manage the timing of the sound and co-ordination of the speakers. This brings the emotional experience of a world-class live performance into the car.

The XC90 also features numerous touches to reduce road and engine noise in the cabin to permit better enjoyment of the sound system (or just to enjoy a quiet ride), among them a patented sound-dampening engine cover and a seal for the entire engine compartment.

Market. Volvo has sold more than 636,000 units of the XC90 since its introduction in 2002; some 250,000 of those units were sold in the US. The XC90 was the Nº 1 selling European luxury SUV in 2004. The impending market launch of the next generation XC90 has attracted some 30,000 hand raisers, with 2,192 sold orders in the US already.

Volvo Cars is targeting the XC90 at young, affluent families as well as affluent “post-families”—e.g., active empty nesters. Volvo Cars is positioning the XC90 as a luxury family vehicle designed for everyday use. (In a slight difference, Audi is positioning the Q7 e-tron as a long-distance car with great sporting talent and yet suitable for everyday use.)

The 2016 XC90 T6 will be available in three trim levels. The well-equipped Momentum trim is available at $48,900. With the Inscription trim, the T6 starts at $54,500. The sport-centric R-Design will be available at dealerships in the fall, with full pricing to be announced at that time. For the T8 Drive-E Twin Engine, arriving later this year, pricing will be $68,100 for Momentum trim, $70,000 in R-Design trim, and $71,600 in Inscription trim. A $995 destination charge is additional on all models. T8 pricing does not include federal or state tax incentives. Other trim detail add-ons and packages will also be available to further enhance and personalize with customers’ preferences.

First editions will begin arriving in June; T6 customer cars are slated for July; and the T8 Twin Engine is due in customer hands in October.



Terrific review review Michael.


Current large SUVs and Pick-ups burn a lot of liquid fues and creat more pollution per Km/miles than smaller, lighter cars.

This technology would help to partially fix the problem?

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